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Russian Military Adopts New Service Pistol

By Charles Q. Cutshaw

The Pistolet Makaravoka, (PM) known in the West simply as the Makarov, has served the Soviet Union and Russian military since 1951, but the Russian government recently announced that the small blowback operated pistol, similar in design to the Walther PP, will be replaced by a new pistol - the Pistolet Yarygin, or Pya. Before examining the new service pistol, a brief history of recent Russian handguns is in order.

The PM is chambered for the 9x18mm cartridge, similar in concept to the 9mm Ultra of German origin. It is slightly more powerful that the 9x17mm cartridge used in many small compact pistols, but notably less powerful that the standard NATO 9x19mm round. By the late 1980s, the Soviet military realized that the PM was becoming obsolete due to the increasing use of body armor by the world’s military forces. The PM was also limited by its magazine capacity of eight rounds. A stopgap 9x18mm pistol, the Pistolet Makaravoka Modernizirovanniyi (PMM) was developed in the 1980’s to rectify the shortcomings of the PM, and although the author has seen nothing in Russian publications to indicate the fact, the PMM cannot have been very successful. The primary reason for this is the fact that the PMM was chambered for a new high-velocity 9x18mm cartridge that developed significantly higher chamber pressures than its predecessor. The high velocity cartridge placed the PMM’s ballistics squarely into the 9x19mm class, but the new cartridge could be identified only by the conical shape of its bullet and it could be chambered and fired in older PM pistols. The PMM operates by delayed blowback, rather than direct blowback. This was accomplished via a spiral groove cut into the pistol’s chamber. While the conical shaped PMM bullet was probably effective in defeating body armor, firing the new round in a PM pistol would almost certainly result in a catastrophic failure, potentially harmful to the shooter. The new PMM also featured a 12 round magazine, but again, the pistol could not be considered to be more than a stopgap measure. Clearly, a new pistol chambered for a more powerful cartridge was required.

The Soviet military announced a traditional competition for a new pistol, similar to the Abakan program that resulted in the development of the new Russian AN-94 assault rifle. The pistol competition was designated Grach (Rook). A number of pistols were developed in response to the Grach Competition, but the eventual winner was the Grach-2 designed by Vladimir Yarygin of Izhmash, JSC, Izhevsk.

Just as important as the new pistol itself was its ammunition. Because of its ability to penetrate body armor, the Russians considered chambering the Grach to fire the 7.62x25mm Tokarev cartridge. The 9x21mm RG-052 cartridge fired by the Gurza and other weapons was also considered for the new pistol. The Russians also considered a modular pistol that could fire any standard Russian cartridge by exchanging barrel and recoil spring. In the final analysis, however, the Russian developers settled on their version of the 91x19mm NATO pistol cartridge, designated 7N21. The 7N21 bullet is very similar, if not identical, to that used in the 9x21mm RG-052 and probably accounts for the armor piercing capability of the 7N21 round. Russian publications claim that this cartridge has enhanced penetrating capability in comparison to other 9x19mm rounds. Another reason behind the adoption of the 9x19mm cartridge was the hope of obtaining foreign sales of the new pistol.

The PYa is a modern, but thoroughly conventional design. The frame is steel, rather than polymer, because the Russian designers believed that a steel frame would enhance reliability. This all-steel construction results in a relatively heavy pistol that weighs almost exactly two pounds (33.5oz). A polymer-framed version of the PYa was also developed, but was not considered sufficiently reliable for harsh military service. In the words of one Russian publication, the PYa is a “traditional” design. In this context, the operating system is the modified Browning short recoil method used on most modern semiautomatic pistols. This consists of a block that locks into the ejection port with the barrel being moved out of battery by the interaction of a cam on its lower surface with a pin in the frame as the slide and barrel move to the rear under recoil forces. As with most other semiautomatic pistols, the pin is part of the slide stop and passes through both sides of the frame. PYa disassembly is similar to the US M1911A1 or Browning High-Power. Feeding is from a “double stack” 17 round magazine. The Pya’s grip is plastic and is “U” shaped to wrap around the pistol’s backstrap and act as a recoil cushion. The PYa’s extractor also serves as a loaded chamber indicator, protruding above the surface of the slide when the pistol is loaded. The PYa is almost completely ambidextrous; the safety can be manipulated by either thumb, although left handed shooters cannot readily manipulate the slide release and thus must pull the slide itself to reload after inserting a new magazine. The magazine release, however, can be moved to the right side of the frame for use by left-handed shooters.

The PYa’s safety blocks the hammer whether it is cocked or released, denoting the ability to carry the PYa in either a “cocked and locked” configuration for single action on the first shot after releasing the safety or double action first shot, single action (DA/SA) thereafter. The Russian designers deliberately built in the capability to carry the PYa “cocked and locked” because this is the fastest and most accurate method of firing the first round. When engaged, the safety blocks not only the hammer, but also the trigger, sear and slide.

All in all, the PYa marks a major transition for the Russian military; it marks the first time in Soviet or Russian history that the military has adopted a pistol cartridge that was not uniquely Russian. Despite the fact that past cartridges have been derived from foreign designs, they were modified in the transition to Russian military service. The PYa is, as mentioned, a conventional pistol design, unlike the AN-94 service rifle, which is highly innovative and unusual. Regardless, the PYa will probably serve the Russian military for at least the next 50 years and will almost certainly be offered for foreign commercial sale.

PYa Specifications

Caliber: 9x19mm
Operation: Short recoil
Length: 7.7 in (196mm)
Barrel Length: 4.4 in (112.5 mm)
Width: 1.5 in (38 mm)
Height: 5.5 in (140 mm)
Empty Weight: 33.5 oz (0.95 kg)


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